‘Tis the Season for a Snowpocalypse

Much has changed since my last post way back in September. Fall was short lived, and I bade farewell to all the summertime lushness. Around mid-October we got our first snowfall and winter was on! It took a while to really gather steam, however. There were 2 or 3 mild snowstorms that left a few inches on the ground through October and November. The main problem for a while was when the temps hovered around freezing for a few days (30 degrees feels balmy to me now by the way) and there was a bit of snowmelt during the daylight hours. After dark it refroze and turned the entire city into one giant ice rink. I seriously didn’t know how cars could handle being on the road. I could barely cross the road on foot without busting my ass! It wasn’t too big of a deal though, I managed to adapt to getting around town in what are conditions I’ve never had to deal with before.

I chuckle every time I see this on my walk to the bus stop in the mornings. It’s the only cactus you’ll see outside up here!
I was all good with my cold weather ensemble by the time of the first snow. I really appreciate my new Eddie Bauer parka, it was 250 dollars well spent.

Then December arrived. Right off the bat we got a foot of snow. The town pretty much shut down for a day as everyone had to dig themselves out. Over half of the people at my job had to miss work for a day or two as the underfunded city snowplow crews struggled to get the streets taken care of. It took folks a while to dig out their driveways, not to mention the snowplows took a while to reach all the neighborhood streets. A couple of days after the big dump, I hopped on a plane to go back to Santa Cruz to grab some things and see my tribe down there. I was worried that the snowfall would mess with my departure, but the airport never missed a beat and I was able to get out without any problem.

I had to take a picture of this massive 20 ft snowpile out on the tarmac at Anchorage International. The amount of work needed to keep the runways clear during winter storms must be massive.

I only spent a weekend down there, where I had the great timing to experience the biggest storm of the year so far. I got stranded up at Jacob’s place an extra night due to the storm felling trees up on Shelby Mountain in Last Chance. The Beast is parked on his property, so I stayed in my truck that night without any of my cold weather gear and it was incredibly miserable. I could have stayed in his trailer, but I missed my Beast and hard-headedly insisted on staying in my camper. We all got beat up by the conditions, but I still managed to grab the things I needed to grab and see all my friends. Overall, the trip was a great success.

Scenes from around town after the first deluge. I thought this was a big deal at the time.
The ocean seems to be halfway frozen out around Fire Island right off the coast from the airport. There are some nice sized ice floes forming there.

I knew that it had snowed while I was gone, but I didn’t think much of it. Upon landing here in Anchorage, I was amazed by how much more snow had fallen in the 3 days since I had left. The snow on the ground had doubled at least! I had a hell of a time getting out of the airport as the buses weren’t running, and cabs and rideshare options were few and far between. After a couple hours of waiting I finally managed to get a 50 dollar Uber to take me the 5 miles back to where I am staying. On the way back it seemed like utter chaos had consumed the city. Cars were stuck everywhere and everyone seemed to be walking around with snow shovels attempting to dig themselves and every one else out. Turns out that Anchorage hadn’t experienced so much snow at once in 25 years. Around 3 feet of snow had fallen in a week! People were having a real rough time dealing with it. The main roads had been somewhat plowed, but the side streets and sidewalks were still waist deep.

Thankfully they finally got around to plowing a hole in the berm at my bus stop. I feel sorry for the old people and infirm who have to wade through this stuff to get on and off the bus.

I had to go back to work the next day. To get to my bus stop, I had to walk down the middle of the street. The snow berms thrown up by the plow were nearly head high, which made getting on and off the bus quite the adventure. After a couple of days back, I wound up getting really sick and had to miss two days of work. The first day I missed, we got hit with yet another storm, and we got another foot of snowfall! It was brutal, even the buses couldn’t run. It was a good day to be sick I guess, since I couldn’t have made it in anyway.

For a couple days I barely left my room, I was sick as a dog. I had the chills and sweats really bad, not sure if it was COVID or just another run-of-the-mill flu. I really wanted to get out and see what the world looked like under all this new snowfall, but I was too ill to be out there traipsing through it. By the weekend, my condition had improved to the point where I decided to take a walk down to the Coastal Trail and see how things were down there. It was astonishing at how different everything looked. The sidewalks had been cleared somewhat, but walking down them was like walking through a tunnel! The snow had built up on the sides of the road where it was only a car width wide in places.

The view from the front of the condo. This is around one in the afternoon, the sun barely peeks above the horizon these days. The lighting is actually really nice this time of year for photography, it’s like the Golden Hour all the time.

The sidewalks were clear at the beginning, but as I made my way down the hill, it turned into a foot trail. Wading through the snow was tough in my weakened condition, but I really wanted to see what it looked like further along towards the coast. It was really cold as well, with temperatures in the single digits. As I made my way along, I started getting passed up by people on skis. That is definitely the way to go when you’ve got substantial snow on the ground!

Going down the ‘ol snow tunnel sidewalk.

The big lagoon at the bottom of the hill has long been frozen solid. I’ve been having fun walking out around on it, it’s a novelty to me to be able to walk around on a frozen body of water. The snow was too deep to be walking around out on it that day though. I did see work crews with heavy machinery trying to clear the snow in certain spots. I think that they want to have clear patches for ice skating and hockey games, they had a lot of snow to clear first in the meantime! I lingered down by the lagoon for a bit, but as I was still pretty week I decided to head back. It did me a lot of good to get out and about though, and it was a great day to get some snow photos.

Not too long ago you would see ducks and geese frolicking here at Westchester Lagoon. It’ll be a while before they can do that again!
A world of blue and white down on the Coastal Trail.

Besides all the snow madness, things have been going all right. I’ve been working for Great Northern Cannabis Manufacturing since September. It’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I just go in, get my assignment for the day and package candy until quitting time. I can get super stoned and listen to podcasts all day. My co-workers are awesome and there is zero stress. I get paid time off and actually got a Christmas bonus for the first time in my working career, so that was pretty cool. I get 30% off all items at our retail store, which really helps me financially.

What we are known for is that all our products contain a ratio of 1:1 THC to CBD. Having the CBD in there rounds out the high nicely. It also not only takes away most of the anxiety I usually get when eating edibles, but really helps with the pain management aspect. I get bad back pains hunched over tables all day, so a gummy or two really helps to take the edge off of that. The management is great, they are always kicking down 50 dollar off coupons and samples of our products for quality control. For the time being, I mostly package and label our gummies and chocolates. Soon I’ll be trained on actually making the products, which I am looking forward to. It’s amazing to actually not dread having to go to work every day, that’s really been a rarity in my life. Being treated decently by my employer is something I really appreciate as well.

Man, I wish all of these were part of my personal stash!

The only thing that is a major drawback is that I only make 17 bucks an hour. Even at full time, I can’t live on that in Anchorage. My personal bills and food costs alone run me around 1200 dollars a month. There’s no way I can afford my own place and to maintain a truck with what is left over from that, so I’m going to have to find something that pays more here before too long. I just found out the other day Ingrid wants me to leave by February, so that adds the pressure to increase my wages soon. One bedroom apartments go for around 1000 dollars a month, which is a lot better than I’m used to. It is just out of reach of affordibility with what I am making right now, however. I’ll probably have to have to live with a roommate, which I absolutely dread. Living with people causes me immense stress. I got along really good with Ingrid though, and this spot is in a prime location close to the bus lines and businesses I utilize. It’s a real bummer I have to relocate, it’s almost certain to be a major downgrade in my living situation.

Unfortunately wages here are a lot lower than Santa Cruz, around twenty dollars an hour is about all I can hope for without a degree or specialized training. If I can just make it to the summer and get that sweet sweet fishing money for a grubstake I’ll be good. I can use that to get my truck up here which will really open up a lot of job and housing options for me. Believe me, seeing people whizz by in their nice warm comfortable vehicles while I wait for buses in sub-zero temperatures really makes me miss having a way to get around. It’s super frustrating to be stuck in one tiny corner of Alaska without any way to get out and see things as well. I can’t wait to get a nice camera and have the ability to get out and get some good photos. The northern lights are starting to rev up good and I can’t get to anyplace I can get a good view of the sky to see them! It’s aggravating to say the least.

Even if I had my truck, it’d be hard to find parking at my job. This is what our parking lot looks like these days.

I’ve really been cooking up some incredible grub the last few months. I cook a couple of big meals a week so I’m not spending so much on food. I’ve really perfected my fried rice, and alternate between Asian and Cajun cuisine. It’d be great if I could get hold of some local wild game so I could really cook Alaskan style. I heard from a guy on the bus that back in the 80’s they would actually give people on food stamps haunches of moose meat! Someday when I’m settled up here I’d love to get back into hunting and fill a deep freeze full of moose steaks. When I grew up in Louisiana, my grandparents would fill up their deep freezes with fish in the summer and venison in the winter. I’d love to get back to that and live the way most Alaskans do. Anyways, here’s a couple pics of some incredible dishes I’ve made recently.

Green gumbo with reindeer sausage.
Red curry with crawfish and pineapple. I can get Chinese crawfish tails from the market next door. It was an experiment that was an incredible success!
Bethan and her mom got a new puppy! His name is Jasper, I really like the little fellow. I think he’ll grow up to be a good dog. He’s some kind of doberman mix, I think.

So that’s pretty much all that is going on in my life. It’s a pretty boring life actually. I just get up, go to work, and come home. I take walks around the neighborhood occasionally. While the weather conditions are tough, every day I still marvel at the fact that I’m in such a unique corner of the world. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to try and carve myself out a life up here. I really feel like I can be myself in Alaska. I don’t think I’ve ever been aligned with a land and its people as much as I am now. As I mentioned before though, I really want to get out of town and be out in the real Alaska. A joke around here is that Anchorage is a great town, it’s only a half hour drive away from Alaska! One good thing about living the Anchorage life is that the weather is the mildest here anywhere in this part of the state. Up towards Fairbanks they are dealing with -30 and lower temperatures and much more snowfall. They don’t get any sun at all this time of year up towards the Arctic Circle, that’s got to be rough for those folks up north. We’ve got it good here in the so-called Banana Belt of Alaska! Well, I hope all of ya’ll had a Merry Christmas and I wish ya’ll good tidings for the new year. Until next time!


Goodbye Fireweed, Hello Fall

Alaska people like to say that when you see fireweed, fall is right around the corner. It started flowering around the end of July and pretty much was done by the end of August. It doesn’t linger long, but it is really beautiful to have around. It’s all over the sides of the road and in pretty much any ditch you see. There were some nice patches around the cannery, which is where the featured image this week was taken. It is a symbol of the ‘dog days’ of summer up here I reckon. Like summer itself in Alaska, the fireweed flush is fleeting. By this point in mid-September everything is starting to die, and leaves litter the ground everywhere. I’m starting to see some really nice colors in the trees on my journeys around town as fall ramps up into high gear.

They say that it starts snowing up here around mid-October, so I figure that’ll be when winter officially starts. I’m savoring the relatively warm weather at the moment, it’s going to get real chilly here soon. It’s been raining non-stop for weeks, but it’s not that cold yet. Every day is pretty much the same, rain off and on with highs in the mid-fifties and lows in the mid-forties. I recently invested in a bunch of additional gear to keep me dry like a quality umbrella and a waterproof backpack cover. I’ve been caught in a couple of downpours on my bike, and even with rain gear on my top and bottom I still got drenched. I’ve been taking advantage of the bus to get around town more and more as a result, it’s nice to travel without being soaked! This time of the year is the wettest, so when there is a nice day maybe once a week, seeing the sun is definitely glorious. It’s wild considering that very recently, a lot of places in the lower 48 were suffering under a heat wave, we definitely haven’t gotten any of that up here!

I just placed an order on Amazon for a bunch of snow gear I’ll need here in a month or so. I’m already down a couple hundred bucks on snow boots, a warm hat, snow pants, and good gloves. I figured I’d go ahead and get what I needed before I actually need it. I’ll need to get a good coat as well, I have a nice winter coat down in Santa Cruz but I don’t know if I can get to it before the snow falls. That’ll be another couple hundred if I have to get one. It feels good to know I’ll have quality winter gear on hand despite the cost, it’s a necessary investment. Since I’m getting my stuff ahead of the winter rush I can pay less and get exactly what I need while there’s still ample supplies available. I’m definitely feeling some trepidation about what I’m about to have to go through, but with proper gear I’ll be all right. I’m actually looking forward to maybe learning how to ski, maybe I’ll even get in some snow machine time! I’ve never lived in a place that has a real winter, I’m sure it will be an educational experience.

This is a pretty typical forecast. Rain, rain, and more rain.

Much has happened since my previous post. The fishing season made it another 5 days or so after I last published. I was hoping for one last hurrah, but the season fizzled out with a whimper instead of a bang. I really didn’t do all that great financially, but I made enough to get by for a while after the season ended. I didn’t know what to do with myself there at the end, I didn’t have enough money to really do anything with. I didn’t have any place lined up to stay at, and definitely didn’t want to go back to the lower 48. One of the last nights I was at the cannery, out of the blue I got a call from Ingrid. I suppose she had heard from Thor about my situation and decided to help me out. She said that I could stay with her at her condo, she had a guest bedroom I could use. I enthusiastically agreed, and when I came back to Anchorage I moved myself in. She’s an awesome lady and I greatly appreciate her stepping up and helping me get started here in Alaska.

Things have been going really well, Ingrid and I get along fine. She’s gone a lot of the time hanging out with Thor and for her job so I have the place to myself a lot. It’s a really nice condo, and mostly old ladies live here so it’s nice and quiet. I really love the location, I’m only about a 10 minute walk from downtown and close to all the major bus routes. One of the first things I did when I got back into town is buy a bike from the local volunteer-run bike collective. I got a really good deal on it, and got a helmet and fenders thrown in for free. It’s a game changer being able to get around on some wheels, I’ve been making huge bike journeys across town and up and down the Coastal Trail. I think my record bike trip so far is around 17 miles or so in a day. I constantly recall my days in Hawaii when I got around solely by bike, it’s been 20 years since biking has been my main way to get around. I’ve been getting super fit, between salmon season and my constant exercise I’m probably in the best shape I’ve been in since my early 20’s.

My new wheels. I really love this bike, it’s such a perfect fit and exactly what I need to get around town.

One of my favorite things to do out on the Coastal Trail is stop at the point where it goes under the flight path of the airport and watch the planes land/takeoff. There’s always a few people hanging out there. It’s at a good turn-around spot so I’ll watch the planes for a while before I turn around and head back.

Hanging out watching the planes come in seems like a pretty popular pastime around here!

There was an incident the other day out on the trail where a lady who was hiking was attacked by a black mama bear with cubs. She only had minor injuries fortunately, but ever since I’ve carried bear spray on me while I’m out biking. I did have a pretty close moose encounter in the same general area as the attack. I came around a bend and suddenly a massive bull moose was there only about 15 feet off the trail. It had a huge rack and was contentedly munching on some foliage. Some morons (probably tourists) had stopped and were taking pictures of it from like 10 feet away. I blazed by without stopping, thinking those people probably shouldn’t be so close to the beast. It was probably 6 feet tall at the shoulder and would make short work of a human being if it had a mind to do so. I admit that the temptation to stop and take a photo was strong, but I wasn’t about to get in the moose’s space!

I had another funny incident with a moose the other day. I was riding another trail in the Greenbelt coming back from Wal-Mart. As I’m pedaling, I see a flash of brown to my right and see a young moose chasing after a magpie. The bird must have done something to really piss off the moose, as the moose was hell-bent on trying to stomp it. The funny thing was is that the magpie would fly a few feet, wait for the moose to get close, then fly a short distance away. It was getting off on tormenting the moose! It was interesting behavior to observe between animals. I asked a few people if they’ve ever witnessed something like that and they seemed to be as surprised by this happening as I was. You’ve got to wonder what is going on with these wild animals sometimes!

I got a chance to visit the Beyond Van Gogh exhibit here in Anchorage. Bethan’s birthday happened recently, and I went with her, her mom and a couple of her friends for the occasion. I didn’t know anything about it, I purposely went in blind. I was really blown away by the show! It’s a traveling exposition that features Van Gogh’s art, hence the name of the exhibition. They set up a bunch of screens and video projectors that surrounded the audience with visual collages of paintings. On every surface, art drifted and morphed around in an amazing display. It runs in a 45 minute loop, and there was very nice music accompaning the show. It was interesting watching one presentation evolve into the next. I took photos and short video snippets, but it was really hard to capture the essence of what was going on. It was one of those ‘you have to be there’ kind of things to truly appreciate. It was a really great time for sure, I would like to see other artists (Dali is the first to spring to mind) presented by this company. It was nice to see such a fresh take on classic art, if it ever comes to your town ya’ll should definitely check it out.

I could tell that they were working up to ‘Starry Night’ at the beginning of this section.

The Alaska State Fair runs for three weeks from mid-August to the first week of September, and it is a pretty big deal around here (as a state fair would be.) So many people I know were talking about it, I knew I had to check it out. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a state fair, and I was interested to see what kinds of exhibits and food a place like Alaska would feature. I rode along with Bethan and her mom, and they told me while it was a really cool fair, it wasn’t as impressive as a lower 48 state fair would be. I went in with an open mind, and wow! I was really impressed! There was truly something there for everyone. Every kind of food you could think of was there, as well as so many exhibits such as arts and crafts galleries & booths, animal shows, demolition derbies, monster truck rallies, live music, helicopter & carnival rides, axe throwing, gun raffles, and tons more activities too numerous to mention. It was definitely a slice of Alaska culture!

I left Bethan in charge of what we should check out, and she planned us a slate of things to do. We went to this juggler/comedian show first. After that we went and checked out a bunch of reptiles, then went and saw a falconer show off a bunch of his birds. When that was over we checked out all the farm animals, followed by all the food, vegetable, and plant best-of-shows. Lastly we saw all the arts and crafts stuff. Probably the highlight for me was seeing the state record pumpkin that weighed in at 2147 lbs. I really enjoyed seeing the reptiles as well, in particular some alligators and bearded dragons. The whole time I was walking around the fair, I had to stop and get some good fair food. There’s nothing like eating a big ‘ol BBQ turkey leg!

It’s been a while since I had a good turkey leg.

Scenes from around the fair.

On the job front, I’ve been doing pretty well. Since most of my professional work experience is in cannabis cultivation, I decided to try and get a job in that field. I found out that in Alaska you have to get what is called a ‘Marijuana Handler’s Licence’ to work anywhere in the industry. To get the licence, you have to pass a background check, take an online course, and pay a fee. The course cost money as well. In addition to the Handler’s licence, most places in Anchorage require you to get a ‘Food Handler’s Licence’ which costs another ten bucks and is done online. You’ve got to jump through a lot of hoops up here to get started working in the weed business, it’s definitely something I’m not used to. There’s an incredible amount of regulations to follow at the place of employment as well. I managed to get all my ducks in a row and applied to every dispensary in town. It took about a week, but I managed to land a cultivation job at this one shop. I really liked their operation, all of their plants were super healthy and everything was really organized, clean, and pest-free.

Unfortunately the management was a bunch of ex-military dudes and there was a weird vibe about the place. I’m used to working with a hippy vibe at grow shows, so it kind of threw me off. The guys I worked with in my crew were pretty cool though. The main thing I couldn’t stand was the extremely low pay they offered. I’m used to making 20-30 bucks an hour down in Santa Cruz doing this kind of work, but these jokers were offering 14 bucks an hour pre-tax! Even at full time, it’s impossible to survive in this town on so little. I took the job just to get some money rolling in while I continued my search for better paying work.

I actually got a interview with a rival dispensary within a couple days after I was hired. This new job paid 17 dollars an hour, which is still pretty horrible…but it’s a step in the right direction. The job was for making cannabis edibles, which is something I’ve never done professionally. I’m a great cook and I’m very knowledgeable about weed, so I figured I’d be a shoe-in for the job. The interview went great, and I have connections with the owner of the place. I wound up getting the job, and as soon as I found out I told my employer about it. They did not take it well at all! They accused me of being disloyal and untrustworthy, and wouldn’t even let me finish out the day. Oh well, screw those guys and their notion of ‘loyalty’. McDonald’s pays more than those jackals did, paying me so little for what I bring to the table is theft of my labor. Anyways, time to be the new guy yet again and learn yet another system. I hope I can stick with this one for a while.

For all you cat lovers out there, I thought I’d include a picture of Bethan’s cat. He’s a handsome fella. It looks like he’s got a jacket on, but that’s actually a bell harness. He’s very good at killing birds, so having bells on him handicaps his wanton slaughter.

I finally had to bite the bullet and upgrade my blog. I ran out of storage, so I had to pay money or else find a new platform. Lord knows I didn’t want to do that after finally getting this one just the way I wanted it, so I had to splash out some cash. I got a deal on it so it wasn’t too expensive. Now I have more storage to keep me going for a while. In addition to that, I’m supposed to have eliminated ads for my readers (ya’ll let me know if you see ads on here and I’ll let WordPress know) and I have my own domain now! My new address for the blog is, I am free of WordPress hosting my site! My old address @ still works, but it redirects to my new site automatically. It feels good to have my first-ever Internet domain all to myself, I feel a bit more professional! Well, that’s all for now, I’ll see ya’ll next time!

Alaska, Commercial Salmon Fishing

Breakdowns, Wild Seas & Declining Catches

The title of this post says it all. While breakdowns and wild conditions at sea were something I expected, the steadily declining hauls we are taking in are not. That first week really set a high standard for the season, but each week since we’ve been pulling in less and less. What we caught that first week in an hour we have to grind for a whole day to catch now. There’s a lot of other salmon species getting into the mix as well, which is definitely not desirable. Reds fetch the most at 2.00 a pound, while dogs and humpies (chum and pink salmon) fetch much less. I think we only get only a quarter a pound for humpies, so seeing a bunch of those in the net isn’t great. We’ve been catching some nice silvers, I think they go for more but not as much as sockeye. It’s strange to be judging fish based on their monetary value. There’s so many fish we catch that I’d be overjoyed to catch on rod and reel, but in commercial fishing I have to look at the overall catch. I’ve got to see at least 100 fish come into the boat each trip to feel like it was a worthwhile day.

Probably the thing that gets me most excited is when we catch king salmon because they are so rare. Sportfisherman can’t keep them, but commercial fishermen can. We’ve only caught a couple in the net so far. One was on the small side, but the other was MASSIVE! I’m reeling the net up on the drum when this enormous thing rolls in over the transom. I thought it was a big log at first, but was shocked to see it was a huge king! It looked as big as the 40 lb. white sea bass I caught a few years back in the Monterey Bay. It was enormous compared to the usual size of salmon we usually catch. It was a beautiful fish, I have to say out of all the salmon the kings are the best looking. I really enjoy the shiny chrome on the silvers, but the kings are my favorite. When we got back to the dock the crew there were really excited about it. They weighed it for us. Turns out it was only 33 pounds, but it still was the biggest salmon I’ve ever seen in person. It was the biggest one Thor had caught in 5-6 years, so it’s not common at all. Catching that fish definitely made my week, that’s for sure!

I would have really liked to have gotten a fillet off this big ‘ol salmon!

The Cheryl Lynn has been having some issues lately. Everything seemed to work more or less fine at the beginning of the season, but starting with the overheating situation I talked about in the last post things have been going downhill. The engine keeps chewing up impellers, we’ve gone through 3 so far this season. The impeller is what failed initially and caused the engine to overheat, and for some reason it keeps happening. The last one Thor put in seems to be working the way it was supposed to, maybe it’ll last until the end of the season. We also had the hydraulics for the reel blow and get hydraulic fluid everywhere, and most seriously, we’ve had ongoing problems with the transmission. For whatever reason it’ll refuse to go into gear at times. One awful day we had all 3 things go wrong, that was fun.

The overheating and hydraulic issues seem to be fixed, but the transmission issue still is plaguing us. There’s something that Thor does to repressurize the lines that gets it to work, but it takes a few minutes. Out at sea in reasonable conditions this isn’t a problem, but it’s gone out on us twice now while waiting to get unloaded at the dock. The boat was at the mercy of the river’s current and we drifted helplessly into people’s boats. Both times Thor was screaming at me to get a line around any cleat on any passing boat I could, while the boat’s owners are screaming at me because we slammed into their boat. Not a good time at all. It’d be very easy for me to get crushed between boats or get knocked into the river when these kind of things happen. I’ve managed to keep the boat safe so far, but it really takes a lot out of me to do it. Now I approach dock landings with dread, as that’s when the shit usually hits the fan. There’s nothing like being exhausted after 12+ hours at sea and looking forward to having the day done, when you’re suddenly thrust into a dangerous scenario that you’ve got to be quick and precise to get out of. You can never let your guard down out here, especially not in port it seems!

It was nice to see a rainbow over the cannery the other day.

To top off everything else, the weather has been giving us issues. Thor says we’ve gotten more wind than usual this season. The wind can kick up any time of day and can whip the inlet into a froth. There’s been times where it was just too much to go out in, so the fleet stayed at port. We had one day where things really got intense. Thor and I had been letting a net soak for 2-3 hours and we knew it was going to be a nice set from all the fish splashing we had seen. The waves at the time were only around 2-4 feet, no big deal. We did know that there would be a small craft advisory later on in the afternoon, but we figured we’d get our fish and get back before the swells and wind kicked in. We started hauling in the net well before the winds were to start blowing, and sure enough, it was loaded. As we got to the end of the first shackle, suddenly the wind started blowing strong out of nowhere. The swells tripled in height, and it was all we could do to stay on our feet. When you’re picking fish you don’t have anything to hold on to, so we were getting tossed around all over the place. It soon became a dangerous situation, it was the salmon version of Deadliest Catch. It just kept getting worse and worse and we didn’t bother picking the last 20 feet of net. We just left it on the deck with the fish still in it and scrambled for the cabin. I said to Thor “get us out of here Scotty,” and we made a beeline for the dock.

When the waves struck, we were in the middle of the inlet. Thor said that it should get better the closer we got to land, but it stayed the same all the way back to the river! It was an intense, white-knuckled trip back. A couple of times I got the sick feeling that the boat was about to roll, but the Cheryl Lynn is a beast and handled everything the sea threw at her. Thor designed her well. He claimed that he’d been in worse and it hadn’t rolled then. Fortunately everything worked when we needed it to, but if we would have broken down out in that slop, things might have gotten pretty dire. When we made it back to the river it was as wild as I’ve ever seen it before. It was a nerve-wracking affair getting docked, off-loaded and back to our anchor buoy. I was so high on adrenaline by the time it was all over and done with, it took all evening to mellow back out. Thor was as shell-shocked as I was, and to celebrate a good day’s catch in such rough conditions we went and had dinner at a really nice restaurant in town. All we could do is talk about what we had just made it through. One minute we were in a tempest at sea and the next we were in a nice comfortable restaurant surrounded by people who had no idea what was going on out there on the inlet. It was two different worlds existing right next to one another.

It was the most intense conditions I’ve ever been in out at sea by far. Thor said he thought we were in 12 foot seas. We caught a few waves that broke over the bridge, and I was looking out at waves higher than the windows a lot of the time. It wasn’t that much fun to be in the middle of something like that, but it was an exhilarating experience to survive nonetheless. The fact that we caught 300 fish despite the poor conditions made getting out of that situation even sweeter. Thor really complimented me on my deckhanding skills that day. It was a real trial-by-fire I guess, and I passed the test with flying colors. Here’s a video I took on our way back, sorry for the vertical filming! I wasn’t really thinking straight at the time.

The wind blew strong for the next day, keeping the fleet from going out. That night the wind died down and we were able to return to fishing the next day. It was as still as a lake out there with calm conditions. It was such a huge change, it was hard to believe that 48 hours before it had been a real washing machine out there!

What a difference a day makes!

It’s not common to see Mt. Redoubt lit up like this in the morning, usually there are clouds obscuring both the sun and mountain. It’s a pretty sight to see on the way to the office!

So as of today (August 2nd) the season is looking like it’s pretty much over. The past few days we’ve just been out there struggling for fish. We’ll leave out the net 3 hours at a time for 20-30 fish. The season is technically open to the 15th, but I don’t see it going on for much longer. Supposedly, the Department of Fish and Game announced that they had counts of 150 fish on their indexes when they were out testing a couple days ago, but for some reason the fleet can’t seem to tap into that biomass. People are already starting to make appointments to get their boats out of the water. There definitely is a vibe in the air that the season is pretty much a done deal. If you can’t catch enough to make it worth your while, then it’s not worth going out.

I’m pretty stressed because I have made far less than I had anticipated this season. At this point I fear I’ve barely broke even on this whole thing. Of course, I didn’t expect to make what I did last year at the lodge, but not this much less! I definitely have made some good connections and gotten a lot of experience in the process however, that was my main goal for this season. It’s definitely been an adventure! Still, I can’t help but to think that this fishery is on its last legs. All the young guys are fishing over in Bristol Bay making big money. I heard they had a record breaking season over there. The run there this year was 69.7 million sockeye! It is the Super Bowl of sockeye fishing. Hopefully with the experience I have from this season I can get a spot on a boat there next year. It’s a tough fishery though, I’ve heard conditions can get pretty nasty over there during the season. I also hear about a lot of horror stories about bad things happening to fishermen over there. Thor’s son had a 47 year old deckhand on his boat suffer a heart attack this year and had to be medevaced out. I also heard a story about a boat that had its reel break off and squash a deckhand against the transom. I heard he lived, but he broke several bones (including his back) and ruptured some internal organs. I’ve never looked at a reel the same way after hearing that story!

Since I was counting on having a lot more money at the end of the season, I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do next. I’m totally overwhelmed with debt, don’t have a place to live, no job lined up yet, and my truck is thousands of miles away. I’ve got some ideas on what to do next but none of them are good options. I’m waiting to see how things turn out and talk to some people before I make a solid plan to proceed. I’m not really looking forward to what lies ahead of me, I feel like I’m in between a rock and a hard place for sure. The best thing is that I’m somewhere where I want to be, now I’ve just got to figure out a plan to stay up here. With winter right around the corner I don’t have much time to get things squared away one way or another. I’m hoping things work out for the best. I’m doing all I can at the moment to make that as likely as possible. Well, I’ll be seeing what the future has in store for me very soon I suppose.

Alaska, Commercial Salmon Fishing

The Big Show Begins

Well, much has happened since the last time I’ve posted. I got to witness what I call the ‘Great Dandelion Detonation’ in Anchorage. Of course, anywhere there are dandelions growing there’s always that time of year when you’ve got some fluff in the air. In Anchorage however, the fluff is like a snowstorm! You actually have drifts of fluff in people’s yards and alongside the roads. I’ve never seen anything like it.

The fuzzy was all over the place!

On a day when the fluff was thickest, I was walking to the Carr’s (Alaskan Safeway) from the house I was staying at in Anchorage. The streets leading to the grocery store wound though a bunch of suburban neighborhoods in the middle of town, so running into wildlife was the last thing I was expecting. I was walking down the sidewalk through the fluff drifts, as I was fiddling around with my phone. When I looked up from my screen, out of a side street to my left came a moose the size of a horse that was jogging in my direction! It was about only about a hundred feet away from me, it was the closest I’ve been to a moose that can actually get at me. I did an immediate 180 degree turn and started walking away from it. After I walked a short distance, I turned around to see what the moose was up to.

Fortunately, it was heading in the other direction down the street. It all happened so fast that I didn’t get a picture, although I tried. Since the way I had to go was the direction the moose had ran, I cautiously continued my walk. I think the moose ducked out in a creek bed that intersected the street a ways down, as I never saw it again. I figure it was a young male moose out wandering around looking for ladies or something. The moose you really have to look out for are the mamas with babies, although any moose could mess you up if you got on its bad/crazy side. This goes to show that you never know what you’ll run into outdoors in Alaska! The moment you step outside you could encounter any kind of critter, even in the middle of a densely populated area.

I went with Bethan and her mom to go check out the local botanical garden on one of my last Anchorage visits. I used to work at one when I lived in Hot Springs, so I was interested in checking out what they had here in Anchorage. It was small, but what it lacked in size, it gained in just the sheer variety of plant species. There were so many different kinds of native ground mosses, flowers and berries on display. Over the course of the summer different kinds of flowers bloom at different times. At the time we visited most of the early season varieties had already bloomed, and the late summer flowers had yet to produce, so the garden was in a bit of a lull. There were still plenty of flowers blooming however, so there was still much to see.

This was a pretty interesting display. I didn’t see any mushrooms on this shroomy bus, but it seems like a work in progress.

Some pictures from around the garden.

The fleet at rest. Notice the boat in the background towards the left side of the frame. He didn’t pay attention to the tides and got stuck there trying to get back in the river mouth.

The major thing going on lately is that ‘The Big Show’ is well underway around here. That’s the general term for the fleet kicking off the salmon season. It’s kind of like Burning Man for the fisher folk. Over time, more and more people started showing up around the cannery. Around the end of June is when it really got hopping. Fortunately, Thor and I had the boat ready to go long before most of our fellow fishermen did, so we got to sit back and watch everyone else go crazy getting their boats in the water.

It’s now a couple of weeks into the season, and I have a few thoughts on the experience so far. The first thing is that commercial fishing in Alaska is a whole different beast than fishing for fun anywhere else. There’s only special days when we can go fishing, and sometimes they run consecutively. This means that you have to go fishing whenever you are allowed to, or you’re leaving money on the table. No matter if you’re injured, or sleep deprived, you’ve got to go. Injuries are really bad, because if you hurt yourself in a small way it never has a chance to heal properly. Then it keeps getting worse and worse, and you’ve got to figure ways to treat it (or keep it from getting worse at least.) This job is hell on the hands, fingers and wrists. I’m constantly popping Advil, icing and bandaging wounds. I’m used to getting injured fishing, it comes with the territory. Getting wounded and working through it is something I’m having to get used to. Fortunately it’s made me a lot more safety-minded and I’m learning how to not get injured in the first place. Still, some things just come out of nowhere and there’s nothing you can do about it. I just try and cultivate situational awareness as much as I can.

It’s rare to see the sun in the morning, and the seas are hardly ever this calm. Moments like these you savor.

Another thing that has been a challenge is learning how to properly tie up our big boat when the river current is flowing strongly. Depending on the tide, the Kenai River can really get rolling. This really becomes an issue when tying up. There’s only so much force I can haul on a line in those kind of currents with that big of a boat. We had issues the other night when I tied off the Cheryl Lynn to the dock for our off-load. Right after I tied up, I noticed that the dock cleat I had just looped the line around started to lean over to the side facing our boat. The heavy current was putting enormous strain on the cleat, while Thor had the boat in gear to try and counteract the force of the water. Obviously, the cleat was rotten and couldn’t take the strain. There were people around besides me, we all ran for cover because when that thing eventually blasted off the dock it was going to go with lethal force. I couldn’t untie the boat because of the dangerous situation, so Thor gunned the boat and ripped the whole thing out. It came out like a bullet and slammed into the hull like a slingshot. That would have crushed a body part for sure.

Right after this happened, we tied up to another cleat and while I was unloading the fish, our engine started to overheat. We managed to make it back to our anchor buoy before a little bit of steam turned into huge clouds, filling the cabin. One of the skiff drivers came over to us, he thought we were on fire! Luckily, Thor managed to fix the problem the next day without calling in a mechanic, so we’re all good now. It was such a stressful off-load after a 20 hour day, things tend to go to shit when you’re least prepared to deal with them out here. As ya’ll can see, the whole docking aspect of this job can be really challenging. There’s just so much that can go wrong when you’ve got big boats crashing up into docks.

The ocean is wildly unpredictible around here. The tides rule everything, since they have a huge range. It’ll swing over 20 feet in 6 hours, and the access to the river is only possible when the water is high enough. We’ve had to wait out at sea for enough water to fill in the river mouth before we could enter. As for being out at sea, it’s generally pretty rough and choppy. Four to six foot swells are normal to work in. Occasionally it is nice and flat, but those times are few and far between. You have to really be careful on deck when things get rough, as it’d be so easy to get thrown overboard by wave action. Today as I write this (July 18) the entire fleet had to turn around due to really nasty conditions. It’s a shame because it’s such a nice sunny day, too bad it was unfishable out there. Swells were rolling 8-10 feet, it was rough. We all headed out to sea in a pack, and one by one boats peeled off to return to port. Thor went out a good ways to see if the waves would lay down some, but it was just too much to safely be on deck. It was a wild ride from inside the cabin though!

As far as the fishing itself is concerned, we’ve been doing pretty well. We’ve caught between 1000 to 3500 lbs of sockeye every time we’ve gone out. Salmon is going for 2 dollars a pound at the cannery, so we get a few thousand a trip. Captain Thor has been impressed by my deckhanding skills and has told me he’s going to give me 20% of the total, which is the experienced deckhand wage. This means I can make a pretty good amount of money for a good day’s fishing. For instance, if we catch 3000 lbs that’s 6,000 dollars. My 20% of that would be 1200 bucks, pretty nice! You can see why everyone is pushing as hard as they can to fish. Our fishing periods are Monday and Thursday, and we can fish from 7 AM to 7 PM. The Department of Fish & Game can add days depending on their daily sampling of the total fish population. This week every day but Tuesday was a fishing day.

I must say that while it is impressive catching so many fish, I really miss having that connection with the fish you get while regular sport fishing. When sport fishing, I feel that every fish has a story attached to it. Some fight while others come up without struggle. Others are smart enough to spit the hook or do something to get themselves unhooked. You’ve got to find the proper bait selection, depth, location and things like that. When you have a good fight with a fish and win, it’s just the best feeling in the world. With gillnetting, you put out your net, reel it in after a certain interval, remove the fish, and chuck them into the hold. No fish has a story, it’s like assembly line work. Sometimes when I catch a big fish I like to comment on the size of it, or how nice its colors are. In a way I feel it gives a little bit of dignity to the fish. There’s no thrill to it like the way it is when I’m fishing kings with my boys back in the Monterey Bay. It is what it is though. I’m glad to have the opportunity to do this work, but I can’t wait until I can get a rod and reel in hand to fish the proper way again.

Our best haul yet, around 600 sockeye. The haul was somewhere around 3500 lbs of fish. It’s a lot of work getting them in and out of the boat, but each one is money in my pocket!

Our fishing days run really long. Typically I’ll wake up at 3:30 and leave the dock at 4. It’s usually 1-3 hours to get to the fishing grounds out in the inlet, and that same amount of time to get back. Then with the off-load taking 1-3 hours, you’ve got quite a long day. Most of our days average 18-20 hours. It takes me a full day to recuperate if I’m lucky enough to have a day off. If the fishing is open the next day, you get a couple hours sleep and you’re back at it. You’ve just got to get by with cat naps here and there. There is a lot of down time letting the net soak, but when it is time to pull it in and get the fish out it’s a lot of work. When the boat is pitching around it gets wild!

I’ve come a long way in the two weeks we’ve been going out. I think I’ve got the fish picking part down, that was the hardest thing to learn how to do. The gillnet is about 13 feet deep, and when you bring it up on the boat it’s compressed into about a 3 foot swath of net. The salmon are all tangled up in there and it takes a lot of practice getting them out. We use these little metal picks to get the netting off of the fish, they are like tiny gaffs. They are also good at hooking the fish in the head in order to get a better grip on them. Sometimes the fish are small enough to just pull through once you get the head clear, but most are snarled up in there. It took me a few trips to really get the hang of it, and now I can get all but the most tangled up fish out of the net. Thor says that I picked it up faster than most people he’s seen, so I take that as a great compliment.

Thor’s girlfriend Ingrid got this pic of me mid-toss. There’s a chute on either side of the reel that leads down to the hold.

There’s a neat little community of fishermen down here at the cannery. Everyone knows each other from years of fishing together. People are divided into what is known as groups. Groups all fish together and share information with each other at sea. Our group has a code system so if one guy finds the fish, he can announce it to everyone over the radio in code so non-group members won’t get in on it. We’ve got a good group full of some interesting characters. Occasionally some of the crew will cook up a whole bunch of food and we’ll all get together and socialize. A lot of these guys are from Washington and Oregon, they fish down there and up here commercially. I just love sitting around with these salty dogs and hearing their stories. It’s a real good scene here of mostly older people. Everybody helps everyone out with whatever they need, as we’re all in this together.

Our very first voyage was 4 days at sea to start off the season. The plan was to head out on the 4th of July and make our way down to Snug Harbor on the other side of the inlet. It’s 52 miles away from Kenai and takes about 3 hours to get down there. Historically, all the fishermen went down there to party on the holiday, I heard it was a quite a scene down there on that day. We were going to fish the area down by Chisik Island (where Snug Harbor is located) and overnight in the calm waters of Snug. I’ve been hearing about this place for a while from different people, and seen it in some of Thor’s artwork. Thor’s girlfriend Ingrid had taken off work for the week and she was going to join us on our trip. Thor was excited to show us the place that meant so much to him, and I was definitely stoked to experience the wilderness on the other side of the strait.

We made our way down there and fished all day. There was a tender (boat that collects fish) from our cannery at the anchorage in Snug, so in the evening we brought our first haul in and off-loaded it there. I was blown away by how beautiful this place was. I’d say that it is probably the most scenic spot I’ve seen in Alaska so far. The waters were turquoise in color, rather than the grey cloudy glacial water that is seen coming out of the rivers of the Kenai penninsula. It was surrounded by lush green mountains and in the background many snowy white peaks of the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve loomed. It is home to an old cannery that is still in operation as a bed and breakfast. A handful of houses dot the shorelines, but other than that it’s undeveloped. We dropped anchor across from the cannery and went to bed around 10 o’clock. Around midnight when the sky started to get dark, some people at the cannery launched a round of fireworks from the beach. It freaked me out at first, but I soon realized what was happening. It didn’t even bother me that they woke me up, I’m glad I got to see some 4th of July fireworks!

Snug Harbor, looking back towards Lake Clark National Park in the interior.

The next day was a day not scheduled for fishing, so we just spent the day going over to other fishermen’s boats to see what they were up to. We’d tie up alongside and just sit around to shoot the breeze. The big party I was told would happen never materialized, I was all ready for some barbecue, bonfires and beers. Oh well, at least I had a lot of beautiful scenery to feast my eyes on. It was a bluebird kind of day, nothing but sun and clear blue skies. Every direction looked like something you could see on a postcard. We lounged around all day, and in the afternoon we got the news that the following day was a fishing day. So we went out and fished that day and the next, returning to Snug at night at the end of each day.

It was nice to visit there, but I got really poor sleep on the day bed in the cabin. All I could think about it my nice bed in my camper back at the cannery. When we got back I crashed for a couple of days, it was wonderful. That trip was the longest I’ve ever been out at sea. While I really liked the adventure of it all, it’s not something I want to do again for a while. Maybe if the boat was bigger and I had a more comfortable place to sleep it would be different, but my back and hips got really screwed up from sleeping on plywood with a thin layer of foam on top. Being middle-aged sucks, I miss the days when I didn’t have to contend with constant daily pains throughout my body. I try to do what I can to avoid it in the first place, that’s my only defense.

Looking out at the entrance to Snug Harbor. It looked like something you’d see in a painting.

A collection of photos of yours truly and of Snug Harbor.

There is so much activity going on right now here in Kenai related to fishing. It’s as if the whole population has turned out to fish for reds on the river. You’ve got us in the gillnet fleet, dipnetters on the beach, and above us on the river are the set net folks. Dipnetters camp out on the beach, and spend all day in the water in their waders. They have giant hoop nets out in the current, occasionally a red will swim into them. They do pretty well from what I hear. Whole families turn out and fish together, heads of households can keep 25 and each family member can keep 20. A good day of fishing will stock up the family freezer for a whole winter, but the fishery is only open to Alaska residents. Then you have the set netters, who anchor their nets and go out in their skiffs occasionally to retrieve the fish. I don’t know much about set net operations, I tried to look up their limits but can’t find anything online. Like us, they can only fish on certain days of the week.

Dipnetters out in force!

So that’s pretty much what’s happening around here. There’s so many things going on daily, this fishing life is pretty dynamic. If I were to try and tell ya’ll about everything that has gone down I’d be writing this post forever. Suffice to say that Alaska is a pretty extreme place. This makes the highs really high and the lows pretty low. Things turn on a dime, you never know what is coming at you. I like that uncertainty, it’s so much more my speed than the boring and predictable lower 48. Anyways, I’ll try and update the blog more often. It’s hard to find time to write though. Either I’m fishing, getting ready to fish, or recuperating from fishing. I still can’t believe I’m getting paid to fish! It’s been a life-long dream for me. Ok, see ya’ll next time!

Alaska, Commercial Salmon Fishing

Kickin’ it in Kenai

I’ve finally had to get back to business this past week. I had a nice 3 week idyll in Anchorage hanging out doing nothing, but it was time to get to work down in Kenai. Thor and I have moved into our trailers on the grounds of Pacific Star Seafoods, a cannery right on the Kenai River. We’re only about a mile away from the river mouth, so the commute will be pretty reasonable once the season starts! This week’s featured image was taken from the banks of the Kenai River around Old Town, looking back at our cannery’s docks from a couple of miles away. The cannery itself is only about half a mile from town, and I get good internet speeds there with my AT&T data plan. These two things have made my work experience completely different this year compared to working at Yes Bay, it’s a game-changer. I also have my own trailer, it is fantastic to have my own space! Over in Thor’s trailer is a fridge and microwave, so we’ve got the food preparation aspect of our camp covered.

The only negative thing I have to say about my accomodations is our finicky power situation. There’s too much load on the outlet that we are having to use to power both of our trailers. It’s fine as long as we keep our heaters off, but with them on (along with the fridge and whatever else Thor and I have powered on at the time) we trip the breaker. Unfortunately Kenai is very cold at night. It’s a lot colder here than in Anchorage, there’s always a chilly wind blowing. My trailer is super drafty, so without a heater going it gets pretty frigid. I’ve got to wear a couple layers of clothes and a knit hat under a couple of blankets to stay warm. It’s kinda crazy that it’s the beginning of June and I’ve got to bundle up like it was the middle of winter down south! That’s Alaska for you!

This little guy has been hanging around our trailers. So these rabbits are commonly known as the Alaskan Rabbit, but they were originally bred in Germany and it’s an introduced species. You can tell they were domesticated at some point as they aren’t as skittish as your typical wild rabbit.

Work has been going well so far. These past few days have been spent patching, stripping and hanging nets on Thor’s boat, named the Cheryl Lynn. The way nets work on a drift boat is there are sections of the net (called shackles) that are around 100 yards long. Three or four of these shackles are wound around a huge roller that looks just like a conventional fishing reel. Our first project of the season was to take off all the nets and inspect them. Depending on the severity of holes in the net, our options were to mend the damage or just scrap the whole thing and tie on a new one. The first shackle wasn’t too bad. Thor showed me how to patch a basic hole, which took a surprising amount of effort for me to get right. I’m pretty good with tying knots, but it takes a bit of practice to translate that skill into repairing nets. After a day or so, I was pretty competent at doing basic square holes. I worked on the small ones while Thor took care of the really big rips.

The Cheryl Lynn in drydock. She’s a solid boat, can’t wait until she is in the water and we’re catching fish!

We got the first one done, and wound it back up on the reel. The other three shackles were too damaged to attempt repairing, so Thor showed me how to go about cutting out the old net from the ropes that hold it together. There’s a top rope with floats called the cork line and a bottom rope with a lead core called the lead line. Stripping a shackle requires taking a permanent marker and marking where the knots holding the net are located on the cork and lead lines, then slicing off the knots. Reattaching the net requires a simple stitch that is endlessly repeated. Stripping and hanging is very monotonous, but I actually really enjoyed it. It was a lot like trimming weed, I just popped in my earbuds and listened to my favorite podcast while I stitched away.

To hang a net, you need a big ol’ knitting needle.

Other than starting to get our boat & gear seaworthy the past week or so, Thor has been busy getting ready for his art show at the Kenai Art Center. He and his father are big names in the Kenai art scene, actually Thor’s mom and dad were founding members of the center. Unfortunately, they both passed last year, but Thor is keeping his family’s art alive. Along with his art, Thor included a few of his dad’s pieces he thought people would like to see. I helped him move a lot of his canvases from Anchorage down here for the show, but there were a few at his family’s homestead outside of Kenai he wanted to bring as well. I’ve heard about the old family homestead a lot, so I was stoked to go check it out when Thor asked me if I wanted to go over there with him.

Thor and his family first came up to Kenai back in the late 50’s. Back then, it was at the height of people coming up to Alaska to stake their claim on property. You were entitled to 160 acres if you lived on the land, built a residence, and farmed at least 10% of it within 5 years of your initial claim. Thor’s dad brought his family up from Iowa and they came up to Alaska looking for a fresh start (like pretty much all of us then and now). He found this piece of land that was out on a isthmus between a couple of lakes and figured that was the best place to set up shop. It is a pretty place indeed. I’ve included pictures of the house and the views from either side of the driveway. These days, Thor’s son has taken operational control of the house and offers it up on Airb&b for rent. The day Thor and I went up there to get the art, a Hawaiian family was there getting their party on. They were good island folk, and didn’t mind Thor and I invading their privacy to get some canvases off the walls. The property still has about 90 percent of the initial land claim given to it. Thor’s parents broke off about 20 acres to the town for a senior center to be built, which actually they wound up spending the last days of their lives in. The Evensons were (and are) such pillars of the Kenai community, it’s nice learning about their history in this town.

A couple of days ago the art show went down, and it was a great success for Thor! He sold some pieces and the opening day went really well for him. He’s done interviews for the local paper and radio station, so word got out and quite a few people showed up. Everyone I met at the gallery has a lot of respect for him and his family, and it was really cool to be on the inside of such a cool local artistic shindig.

I got Thor to take a picture with my favorite painting. It’s also the most expensive one in the gallery, listed at 7000 dollars.

A selection of my favorite pieces. Thor had quite the variety of art to show, there was something for everyone.

I attended the opening for a bit, then I broke away and wandered around town to take some pics. I just love the vibe down in Kenai, there’s just so much history around old town. Next door there was a bunch of old cabins that were all restored, and there was a nice lady posted up there that took me on a tour to tell me all about their history. It was a great open-air exhibit, there were historical cabins outfitted as close as possible to how they were in the past. There were cabins staged as a school, grocery, residence, and shacks for fishing and trapping. Alaska is such a relatively new place that history doesn’t have to be that old to be noteworthy, as a hundred years is about as far back as it goes. With the harsh winters here, you really have to try to preserve history around here if you want to keep it around. Kenai is doing a pretty good job of it as far as I can see.

I really liked this bad ass ol’ truck. It hauled a lot of cargo back and forth on the Al-Can highway back in the day.

This must be one of the very first gas powered lawnmowers ever built. There were some cool antiques there at the Kenai Cabin Museum.

I wasn’t far away from where the old Russian Orthodox church was, so I walked on over there. I’ve been meaning to get some shots of the church, as well as some other old cabins located nearby.

I really like how the blue of the steeple matches the sky. I’m no fan of organized religion, but I know a beautiful building when I see it.

My favorite historical cabin in Kenai.

I think this is the oldest building in all of the Kenai Penninsula. Thor told me when he was little, he and all his friends thought there were a bunch of priests buried in the floor of this cabin. It was officially a rectory of the church which is right next door.
A raven posing with Mt. Redoubt in the background.

This past weekend I decided to change up my living situation. Thor and I have been headed back to Anchorage on the weekends, and I’ve been staying with him at his place up to this point. Bethan’s aunt is down in the lower 48 for an extended period of time, so I was given the opportunity to stay at her vacant house when I’m in town. It’s a super nice 2 story house in the suburbs of south Anchorage, it feels like I’m staying at an Airb&b. All Bethan and her mom ask of me is to water all the plants in and outside the house whenever I stay there. It’s a great deal for me and them, it was nice to have so much room and a really comfortable firm bed to sleep on. Staying there will really help me recharge during my weekend downtime this season. It’s walking distance to a couple grocery stores and right across the street from some great hiking trails, so it’s got everything I need right close by.

Enjoying the sunset at 11:30 at night from the back deck of Bethan’s aunt’s house.

At last, today (Monday the 6th) we got the final net hung and on the boat. It was very satisfying rolling the last length on the net drum, I feel like I just loaded a spool of fresh line on my favorite reel! It took a couple of weeks, but Thor says we’re still ahead of schedule. The fishermen are starting to stream into the cannery boatyard to work on their boats and get their nets ready for the season. I’ve already met some interesting characters, fishing always attracts a motley crew! Thor’s been fishing with most of these guys for decades, he’s constantly telling me stories about his fellow fishermen and their boats. I talked to this one younger guy today, he just came up from Seward where he put 70,000 lbs of reds (sockeye) on his boat in the past week and a half or so. He seems to think such a large haul bodes well for our season over here in Kenai. I sure hope so! Thor says he thinks this will be his last season, so it’d be good for him to cap off a 60 year fishing career with one big last hurrah. Of course it would be good for my finances as well! Now that we got the nets done, it’s time to get working on the boat itself. Hopefully (knock on wood) we won’t have any major mechanical issues with the Cheryl Lynn and it’s smooth sailing to opening day here in a couple of weeks. I’m ready to get out on the water and get my fish on!

Alaska, Hiking

Spring Doesn’t Last Long in Alaska

Down in the lower 48, spring lasts a good 3 months or so in most places. Here, one week it’s winter, the next week the snow is melted and it’s t-shirt weather! When I got here back at the beginning of the month, there was still a lot of snow on the ground. I usually would wear 2-3 layers in my strolls around town. Within a week’s time however, all the snow piles were gone and trees everywhere all simultaneously burst out in green. The past couple of days I’ve been walking around in short sleeves and have been completely comfortable. It’s in the upper 60’s and the breeze is refreshing walking around in the warm sunshine.

I’ve pretty much hiked every trail within a 5 mile radius of Thor’s apartment, and everywhere else in the town I can easily walk to. According to my Google Timeline Insights, I have walked a total of 65 miles this month! I usually hike 3-5 miles a day, it’s becoming an addiction! I had major phone issues the second week I was here (I had to switch from T-Mobile to AT&T, what a nightmare that was!) and ventured down to the midtown area for the first time to try and remedy my communication problems. It’s kind of scuzzy down there with all the bums, but I discovered a great Hawaiian restaurant in the process.

There’s quite a few homeless here in Anchorage, but there are great mobs of them congregating everywhere the closer you get to midtown. I was hiking a trail down there the other day and the whole forest along a major multi-use trail was populated by homeless camps. One twacked-out fellow came up to me asking if I had seen some big dude on a bike, probably his dealer or something. Other than that I’ve had no issues, but some places around town give me a sketchy vibe. Not hard to avoid those spots though. 

Ship Creek runs through north Anchorage and is the site of the only urban salmon run in the country. This place is also the site of the original tent city of Anchorage.

A couple of weekends ago, Bethan suggested that we get out of Anchorage and go down south about 40 miles to visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Bethan and her mom packed a picnic lunch and we all headed down there to check it out. Bethan wanted to stop at this little nursery along the way and buy some flowers, so we made a detour and checked it out. It was at someone’s private residence, which was pretty cool. There was a lady selling her art out front and the place was happening! It was Mother’s Day and it seemed like that was the place to be. It was a beautiful garden, well maintained and stocked with any plant you could desire.

Forget-Me-Not Nursery.

After Bethan adopted a few new plant friends, we made our way down to the center. It’s a pretty big place, they’ve got lots of space for their animals. It’s a conservation center, so the animals that are there can’t survive in the wild for whatever reason. They’ve got all kinds of animals, like wood bison, wolves, musk ox, moose, reindeer, and black and brown bears. The black bears put on a show, but we never saw the grizzlies. They have the largest enclosure full of hiding spots, so it is probably not surprising we didn’t see any. The Conservation Center is in a really beautiful valley outside the turnoff to Portage, and is a nice place to spend an hour or two.

I’m sure the animals appreciate the view!

A few of the critters we saw at the center.

After we got our fill of walking around the Conservation Center, we got back in the car and make the short drive over to Portage Lake. Bethan and I came up here last year in early June, and the lake was almost ice-free then. There was more snow on the mountains than last year around this time, and there were still sheets of ice floating around on the surface. When the wind blew, the sheets started grinding against each other, piling up big ridges of ice crystals everywhere. It made a rather pleasing sound as the sheets crashed into each other, like glass shattering into shards. We got out our picnic spread and enjoyed the view while we ate our snacks. The wind coming off of the mountains was a bit chilly, so after we got done we didn’t linger for very long. While it was pretty warm down in town, winter was still lingering around the lake!

A fine spot for a picnic.

Last weekend, Thor told me that his friend Amy had some yard work she could use some help with. I leapt at the chance, as I definitely needed some positive cash flow. Amy is a cool lady, she works for the park service up at Denali National Park. I guess she helps pick fish on Thor’s boat when he needs the help, so we’ll probably be working together at some point during the summer. In the course of my workday I had to go pick up some supplies from the Home Depot. She let me take her Toyota Tacoma to run the errand. When I got back I told her how much I liked driving it. It was a stick shift, and I really miss driving a vehicle with a manual transmission. She then told me I could borrow it and go road tripping if I wished!

Her suggestion was that I should take it up to Talkeetna (where she is from) and check out the town. There’s great views of Denali to see from there as well. While I was up there, she also said I should stop by and visit her brother at their family’s old homestead. After a call to see if it was ok to stop by, I was informed that her bro could use some help moving some things around on the property. Just like that, I had a working vacation set up! I thanked her for her kindness, and promised her I’d take care of her baby as if it were my own.

The next day, I got up early and hit the road. After a couple weeks of only having my feet to get around on, it was awesome having some wheels. I headed up Highway 3 into Mat-Su Valley. The road went through Sarah Palin’s hometown of Wasilla, which is probably the most boring and bland Alaskan town I’ve yet been to. They have a Sonic and Raising Cane’s there though, so that took my appreciation of the town up a notch. After Wasilla there’s not much in the way of civilization. There’s a few houses sprinkled along the highway and a gas station or two, but other than that it’s just empty land for the most part.

After almost 3 hours on the road I pulled into the village of Talkeetna. Now this was the small town Alaska experience I was looking for! The place had quite a bit of character. There were throngs of tourists everywhere, I guess this is a popular place to visit on the road to Denali. I was pretty hungry, so I stopped at Shirley’s Burger Barn for a caribou green chilie cheeseburger. It was pretty tasty, it was like eating a burger made from lean hamburger meat.

After I ate, I walked down the main drag to a park that was located at the end of the street. There was a lot of snow on the ground still up here, and it was a bit colder than down south. The Susitna River was still full of ice, breakup was in full swing. Denali stood in full view to the north, and for the first time I got to see this monster of a mountain. You can actually just barely make it out on the horizon in Anchorage about 225 miles away, in Talkeetna it dominates the skyline and it’s still 150 miles away. It’s the biggest mountain I’ve ever seen by far! It was incredible to be so close to the roof of North America.

A lot of the older people I meet call it by its old name, Mt. McKinley. It will always be Denali to me! At 20,310 feet in height, it seems like you could almost reach out and touch it from 150 miles away.

I took in the sights of town for a while, and when I had my fill I rolled on over to Amy’s family homestead. Amy’s brother Chris was in the middle of trying to get a snowplow off the front of his truck and not having much success. As we both tried to figure out how to remove it, we got to talking. He’s an interesting fellow who works for the railroad. He’s coming off a 6 month medical leave of absence, and wasn’t able to get around that well. This being the case, I offered to help him with whatever I could while I was there. He took me up on that, so after we got the plow off of the truck we got his boat out of storage and pulled it out into the yard with his tractor. Chris is a commercial salmon guy like Thor, although Chris fishes king salmon out of anchored nets. His season is kind of crazy, they only get one day a week from 7 AM to 1 PM to catch as many fish as possible. I guess it has to be regulated like that to keep the fishery going.

Chris’s dog Winchester is a good ‘ol Alaska hound dog. I gave him a good ear scratch and he kept hounding me for more.

Chris wanted to move his broken-down snow machine into his shed, but since it weighed close to 500 lbs he wanted to wait until a friend of his got there to help move the thing. While we waited, he broke out a bottle of vodka and we got to drinkin’. He had some moose meat to cook, so I decided to make a moose sauce piquant and show him how to cook Cajun food. Eventually Chris’s girlfriend and his friend made it home (bringing more vodka) and we got our party on. While the sauce piquant was cooking, we went and manhandled the snow machine. I pulled something in my back in the process, but we got it indoors. Those things are so heavy, I don’t know how they avoid sinking in the snow! Allegedly they can even ride on water short distances when you’re going fast.

After the work was taken care of, it was time for dinner. I was stoked to try out my Alaska-Louisiana fusion creation, unfortunately the moose was so tough it was inedible. It tasted good, but it was like chewing on leather! I figure some time in a pressure cooker would take care of that problem. The sauce piquant part came out good however, we had some rice to eat with it so the dinner wasn’t a total loss. We kicked back after dinner and got pretty hammered. It was my first time hanging out in an Alaska house party situation, and it was just like hanging out with Louisiana people. Obviously it’s different, but it felt like the same down-home vibe I grew up with. Country people are the same everywhere, no matter if they live in the Deep South or the Far North. I definitely felt at home hanging out with those cats, I really enjoyed being there.

As it got dark around midnight, I felt like I needed to lay down. I vaguely remember staggering to my bed in the guest house. I slept really well, and I didn’t wake up until late morning. I needed to hit the road, so I went to the main house to tell everyone goodbye. Chris really wanted me to stay a few more days and work on some projects with him. Thor and I had plans to go down to Kenai the next day however, so I had to turn him down. He gave me some cash for helping him out the day before, and I thanked him for his hospitality. I then made the uneventful trip back to Anchorage. All in all, I highly recommend Talkeetna! The town has character, great views of Denali, and really friendly locals. I hope to spend more time there in the future.

View of the Kenai River mouth. I’ll be seeing this place a lot this summer. Mt. Redoubt (an active volcano, tallest in the Aleutian range at 10,197 ft) looms in the background.

Thor and I returned to Kenai the next day to handle some business, and to see what was going on at the cannery. We were anxious to move into our trailers and start getting the boat set up. When we got to the cannery, the foreman told us they were wrapping up the electrical work. It still would be a few more days though. We really needed to start on mending our nets, so Thor said we would come up and stay on the boat while we worked on it. I wasn’t too keen to stay on a boat in dry-dock with no power, but it was what it was. I was glad to be moving forward, regardless of accomodations.

We ran a few more errands, and then Thor took me to old town Kenai to show me where he grew up. They still have gravel roads there in that part of town on the bank of the Kenai River. It’s a very unique place, I really like it. At the center is a big Russian Orthodox Church (which I forgot to take a picture of) surrounded by old cabins built by the Russians (also forgot photos). This is the first time I’ve seen remnants of Russian Alaska, so that was cool. Thor took me to this cool little cafe called Veronica’s Cafe and Coffee House for lunch. It was also in a historic building, really cool little spot.

Well, that pretty much catches me up on everything I’ve done these past 3 weeks. I didn’t expect to have this amount of time to explore and get into things, but it worked out great. There’s nothing I love more than seeing new places, as well as meeting cool people and doing interesting things in said places. I’ve gotten a perspective on life here from the local point of view, which is how I like to roll. Once we start working, I won’t have the time to explore around, so I’m glad I was able to ease into the season this way. It’s been fun, but I’m ready to start fishing! It won’t be long now!

Alaska, Fishing, Hiking

Back in the Land of the Midnight Sun

It’s been a while, but I’m back in action! After I got back from the desert last fall, I headed back home to Louisiana for a couple of weeks. I partied in New Orleans a bit and finally got around to moving all the stuff out of my storage unit down in Madisonville. I took it all up to Natchez, MS and moved everything into a new unit, which was quite a mission. I then spent some time with the family before returning back to Santa Cruz in early December. I had been traveling and working by that point for almost 6 months, and I hit a brick wall on my return. To finally come to a stop after all my traveling and adventures was jarring. All I wanted to do was to hop on a plane and come back to Alaska, it was hard to get back into California life. I had spent all my summer money by then so I had to find employment. There wasn’t much work available from my usual sources, so I had to get a job at the local natural food store working in the deli. I worked with great people and management, but it was just soul-destroying work. I hadn’t worked a job serving the public in many years, and I came to remember how much I loathed having to cater to the whims of entitled customers. I put my nose to the grindstone and got through it, but I feel like that’s going to be the last winter I can stand living out of my truck and working such a miserable job. I’m just so over living that way, it’s hell on my body & mental state.

It was a long and painful slog, but I got through it. A couple of weeks ago I parked The Beast up at Last Chance once again for the summer, and I hopped on a plane to journey back here to Alaska. The year didn’t feel like it started for me until early April, when me and the boys had a great opening day on the king salmon opener. I had bought a new Penn Squall reel just for the occasion and it caught not only one, but two salmon! Bear-Tits caught one on my rod, and I got the second one after a textbook takedown and retrieval. Hopefully my luck with salmon continues for fishing up here this season!

It’s great to be back here in Alaska, I feel like myself again. All the stress and anxiety that I had been feeling just melted away the second I saw those big beautiful Alaskan mountains on my approach into Anchorage. The first weekend I was here I stayed at the same Airb&b over by Bethan’s house that I rented out last year. I spent some time with Bethan and her mom, it was really nice. We did a lot of hikes and saw a few critters. It was a nice way to ease my way back into Alaska life.

On the Monday after I arrived, Captain Thor picked me up and we drove down to Kenai. During the 2 and 1/2 hour drive, we got to know each other. He’s a pretty cool fellow, we seemed to hit it off really well. Thor and I had planned to stay at his trailers on the grounds of the Pacific Star cannery in Kenai while we started getting the boat ready for the season. When we got there, the management said we couldn’t stay on the property as they needed to do some electrical work. When pressed on when we would be allowed to move in and hook up our trailers, they said it would be at least a week, possibly two. With nothing else to do, we returned to Anchorage. Thor said I could stay in his spare bedroom at his apartment located in the downtown area, so that’s where I’ve been based out of the last couple of weeks.

Every day I’ve gone out and hiked around 4-5 miles a day. His apartment is only a couple of blocks away from the coastal trail, so I’ve been out on that a bunch. There’s so many awesome restaurants within walking distance as well. There’s even a couple of Cajun restaurants downtown that serve food just as good or better than I could get in Louisiana! Anchorage is one of the most diverse cities I’ve ever visited, and there’s so many ethnic restaurants around as a result. The markets tend to have quite an Asian influence which I really like. There’s a market a few blocks away that sells all the Cajun products I love, plus things like poke and canned juice drinks from Hawaii. I’m like a kid in a candy store every time I go and get groceries, it’s almost like being back in the islands.

My favorite view from Elderberry Park, which is about 5 minutes walk from where I am staying. It’s a good place to get stoned and people watch. I usually plan my day while sitting here taking it all in.
This room at a local bar called Chillikoot Charlie’s is full of bras and boxers stapled to the ceiling! Kind of nasty, but I guess it’s an Alaska thing.

It’s actually been really nice to explore this part of Anchorage and get to know Thor. He’s a really cool guy, he’s an accomplished artist, sculptor and boat designer. He’s actually sketching out blueprints for his son to build his own boat, which I think is pretty cool. Thor’s a easygoing dude and we’ve been getting along great, which is a relief. We’re going to be spending a lot of time together, so being able to get along is huge. He’s a big reader and has a lot of cool books. One he gave me to read was written by his friend Pat and is a memoir. It’s all about commercial salmon fishing with Thor and his dad back in the 70’s and 80’s. It actually was a really good primer for me in regards to what I’m going to be doing this summer. There’s all kinds of tales in there about fishing back in the day. If this season is anything like the ones described in the book, it’s going to be an interesting time to say the least.

Anyone who wants to know about the Alaska commercial fishing business should read this! It’s very well written and full of great stories.

Thor’s introduced me to a lot of people, and I’ve been going out on hikes with his girlfriend. She’s a member of a hiking club and I’ve been going along with her. Our first hike was to the summit of Flat Top mountain, which overlooks the city. I went and bought a pair of YakTrax (chains attached to a rubber band that attaches to one’s boot) to put on my hiking boots. The trail up was still covered in snow and ice, so they were definitely needed for traction. When we got to the trailhead, half the group wanted to stay and hike the relatively easy trail around the mountain. The rest of us headed up the trail leading to the summit. At first, the trail was pretty tame. Occasionally we’d fall through the snow (known as postholing) but I never sunk in deeper than my knees.

I soon fell behind, as I’d stop and take pictures every now and then. The members of the hiking group I was with were like mountain goats and straight charged up the mountain, leaving me in the dust. I’m in decent shape, but the trail conditions started hammering me pretty hard. It was pretty much straight up, and I found myself having to stop and catch my wind pretty frequently. I was set on making the summit however, and I forged ahead. When I got to the last third of the trail, I found that it was pretty much climbing up snow mixed with some rock scrambling. I really could have used some snow poles at this point, but I felt I could accomplish it with the gear I had.

There must have been a dozen times I wanted to quit, as I was running out of energy. The summit was right there though, and I knew if I wimped out I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself. The last 30 feet I was climbing the snow like a ladder. Finally, I made the summit! It was exhilarating, and the views were just spectacular. I finally get why people climb mountains now, it’s just the most rewarding experience. The feeling of accomplishment is like being high on a drug or something.

Incredible views off of the summit.

Unfortunately, what goes up must come down. It seems that the hikers ahead of me had slid down the mountain for their descent. After walking around the summit for a bit, I realized that I either follow their lead or go back down the way I came up. I took one look at the drop that went for a mile downslope and realized that if I didn’t slide properly, I’d just tumble all the way down…possibly breaking every bone in my body in the process. Since there was no one with me to show me the proper technique of sliding down the mountain, I decided I’d have to go back the way I came. I got myself together and eased my way over the lip of the summit doing a kind of crabwalk. My main goal was to inch my way down and not get into an uncontrollable slide. It went well at first and it seemed I would be able to control my descent.

Alas, soon gravity took over and I felt myself beginning to slide. Suddenly, I was off like a rocket! My backpack and water bottle was ripped loose and slid down with me. Snow filled my pants and shirt as I careened down the mountain. A whole bunch of snow was sliding down with me and for a moment I thought I was going to start my own personal avalanche. As I shot straight down the mountain, I found that I could kind of steer with my legs and was able to make my way over into a bunch of snow that was broken up by footprints. The rough snow finally stopped my slide and I came to a halt. About this time my phone rings and it is Thor’s girlfriend, Ingrid. It seems everyone else had made it down and she was wondering where I was at. I told her I was on my way back and I was busy sliding down the mountain at the moment, I’d be back to the parking lot momentarily.

I was pretty shaken up by the experience, but it was pretty exhilarating at the same time! I seemed to be all right at the moment, but as I made my way back down and the adrenaline wore off I started feeling some bad pain in my right forearm. I peeled back my sleeve and saw that I had a major scrape. I must have tore it up on a rock or something on my way down. I could have messed myself up far worse, so I counted myself lucky. The rest of my descent was without incident, although I got off the trail close to the bottom and got my leg stuck in the snow for a few minutes before I could dig it out. It’s amazing how the snow can harden like concrete once you’re stuck in a drift. I can definitely see how doomed someone would be if they got stuck inside an avalanche. If there ain’t someone around to dig you out if that happens, you’re pretty screwed.

I didn’t know you could get road rash on a mountain, now I do.

So that’s pretty much the goings-on of my first week. I’ve done a lot more things around here since, but I figured I’d save that for next time and split this into two parts. Stay tuned for further Dogfish Tales coming at you from the Great White (well, green now) North!


Return to Civilization

In regards to my featured photo, I wanted to show the joy I experienced being at the end of the rainbow! A perfect rainbow was formed right over the lodge in the last week we were there. I’ve seen a lot of pretty rainbows at Yes Bay, but this one is the best. I just wanted ya’ll to see me experiencing it.

Well, I finally did it! The season is over, and I’ve returned from the bush. The way it worked out, I left three days earlier than expected due to our last couple of groups canceling. The coho run ended suddenly, and that along with really bad weather finished our season. At first, I was pretty annoyed at losing out on the extra pay I would have made. Also having to reschedule my flights and the extra money that would cost was another aggravation I wasn’t really keen on experiencing. After thinking about it though, I decided I was glad to leave early. I was just completely done with the whole thing. Instead of changing my flights around I opted to stay the extra three nights in Ketchikan and ease my way back into civilization. This really worked out well and I’m glad I did it.

Before we all made our escape, we had a wedding to attend. Captain Pack Rat and his lady Party Wolf were going to tie the knot out at the lodge. Everybody pitched in to make the hitching a success. My task was to clean and cook a whole bunch of Dungeness crab for the reception, so one last time I got the ‘ol crab pot out and boiled up a mess ‘o crab. We had the wedding down on the dock, and one of the office girls made a nice little wedding arch placed on our fish-hanging rack. Captain Snapper officiated the ceremony, and it was a great success. It was raining and cold that day, we were all in our raingear and Xtra Tough boots. I must say it was the most unique wedding I’ve ever attended! After the ceremony, we had really nice reception/final dinner with the crew. The boss gave us some great compliments on having a stellar season and said that he’d hire any of us back. It really made us all feel pretty good, and was a great way to end things.

The happy couple.

The next day was our departure day. I was initially supposed to head out by boat, but at the last minute I got bumped to the plane for which I was glad. All season long I had daydreamed what it would be like to finally leave, and when the moment came I was ecstatic! Climbing into the back seat and taking off was one of the finest moments of my life. It was a really nice plane ride into town, the weather was perfect and you could see for miles. The boss had left a little before us in the Water-Horse, transporting some of the crew and all our baggage. Trevor got down to about fifty feet over the water and we buzzed the boat on the way in, that was fun!

When we got back to town, Trevor took us around in the company van to run errands. I mailed off a box of gear at the post office and then a bunch of us got dropped at a hotel in town. We all made plans to meet up later that night at the local Moose Lodge for drinks and I checked myself in. It was absolutely decadent having a nice hotel room to myself, with a great view of Ketchikan harbor.

Nice view from my room. A bit noisy from the traffic however.

Fortunately, there was a dispensary right next door so I didn’t have to go far to get myself some smoke. Afterwards, I had a crazy appetite so I treated myself to a nice seafood platter at the best restaurant in town. It was an awesome first meal back in civilization! When I was finished eating, I met up with some crew members and we made the rounds of the bars downtown. At some point I made it to the Moose Lodge where almost everybody showed up and we got sauced! I don’t remember too much about the rest of the night but I know we all had a real good time. It was a great last hurrah with the crew.

Almost everyone flew out the next day, and I moved from the hotel to a nearby Airb&b I had rented out. The Airb&b was right on Ketchikan Creek about a quarter mile from downtown. Supposedly the writer Richard Bach had stayed there before, it was in a really cool 100 year old house. Being so close to the creek there was constant white noise which I really loved. It was ironic that my waterfall white noise app on my phone helped me sleep while at the lodge, and now I had the real life version! It worked out great as a base of operations the next three days I was in town. My co-worker Mary Ann was flying out the same day as me, so we hit the bars and hung out in the interm. The weather was pretty bad the whole time so I mostly stayed indoors. I did a bit of walking around checking out the sights though. I managed to make it to the town museum and check out the exhibits. I’ll never pass up a good museum!

A view of Ketchikan Creek from my Airb&b window.

The day finally arrived for my departure from Ketchikan, and I hopped on my flight bound for Anchorage. I had been really looking forward to seeing Bethan again, but a day before I left Ketchikan she told me she was sick! She didn’t know if she had COVID or not, but she didn’t want to spread whatever she had to me. I was really bummed about this development but decided to go anyway. I told her we’d just play it by ear, if she felt better we could get together. I figured that in the worst case scenario I’d just take it easy and rest up. I was still super exhausted from the season and laying around doing nothing sounded like a good time to me!

I arrived back into Anchorage and took an Uber to my Airb&b. It was in a pretty good spot close to a liquor store and good restaurants, so for the first couple of days I just laid in bed drinking whiskey and started to get caught up on all my shows I’d missed while out at the lodge. On the third day I had booked a night at the Historic Anchorage Hotel downtown. It’s known to be haunted and I got the room that was said to be the most haunted in the hotel. I love staying in haunted hotels so I was interested in seeing if I could experience any paranormal phenomena while I was there. Fortunately, Bethan wound up not having COVID and was feeling well enough to hang out. She wanted to see if any ghosts were around as well, so she came over and we had a nice reunion. She recommended we walk this trail that went from downtown to the shore of the Knik Arm that lies to the north of the city. We went and had a good little hike with some really pretty views. Everyone says that Anchorage is an ugly city, but the views around town are incredible I think.

Looking west/northwest towards the Knik Arm.

The Chugach Mountains to the south and east of the city are magnificent.

The Historic Anchorage Hotel. It’s one of the oldest buildings in Alaska, and one of the few to survive the destruction of downtown Anchorage back in the earthquake of ’64. This place has a lot of history (and ghosts).

We came back to the hotel and settled in, but no ghosts made an appearance that night unfortunately. It was still really cool to be in such an historic building, and the room was pretty nice as well. I definitely recommend the place. The next day was my last day in town, and I really wanted to hit up the museum before I left. After a seafood Benedict breakfast (I needed to get my Eggs Benedict fix after a long while without) we made our way to the museum. I was really impressed with it, it took around 3-4 hours to see everything. They had all kinds of cool exhibits and art. Bethan and I had fun playing on all the interactive exhibits meant for kids. There was even some live animals in there. I really connected with this little black rockfish that was hanging out in the tank with a king crab. I emailed the museum after my visit to see if the fish had a name but they never got back to me…so I guess I’ll refer to him as Blackie! They also had a snapping turtle in there for some reason and a nice tide pool tank. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the museum and I’m glad I got to check it out with such lovely company.

After the museum, Bethan suggested we go to this place called ‘The Crow’s Nest’. It’s at the top of The Hotel Captain Cook which is the tallest building in Anchorage I think. She warned that it was pretty pricey but the views were amazing. The hotel itself was set up like a sailing vessel with a lot of dark wood paneling and was sort of a tribute to Captain Cook himself. There were a lot of portraits around showing his travels around the Pacific. When I lived in Hawaii I actually went to the place where he was killed by the natives. It was a haunted place for sure. What a bad end he came to! Anyways, we went up to the restaurant and had some food and drinks. She was right, the views were incredible! It was a little pricey, but it was definitely worth it in my opinion.

After we were done eating and drinking, we tried to go to this native museum but it was closed unfortunately. It was getting dark, so at a lack of things to do we got some pizza and headed back to my Airb&b to hang out for a while. Unfortunately, when we got back to where I was staying, the lady of the house yelled at me for having guests (I guess there was a no-guest policy, I wound up getting my first negative Airb&b review because of it) so Bethan couldn’t stay. As it was late anyway and I had to get up early for my flight back to the lower 48 we said goodbye to each other. I hated we couldn’t have spent more time together, but sickness can really throw a monkey wrench into things. Oh well. We still had a real good time.

I really miss Alaska. Hopefully I can get a job doing deckhand stuff up there next season. I hope it works out. I thought I’d post a couple more videos from Alaska. One is of my first (and only) bear sighting. Needless to say I was excited about it. The other is of a school of salmon coming real close to me by the dock. Enjoy!

So I’ve been back in California for the past few days getting geared up for my next adventure. It’s been really difficult getting back into society down here. While it’s been great being reunited with The Beast, I just feel overwhelmed. All the traffic and people everywhere has me crazed. Also the whole society seems to be crumbling around me. When I left back in June things seemed to be getting better, but now it’s just chaos. I’ve not really had time to clear my head and think about what I just went through. This being the case, I’m heading out to the desert for peace and quiet in the desolation. I’ll name this upcoming expedition ‘Operation Desert Solitude’ I think. It’s gonna be a good one. I’ve invested a couple grand in truck repairs and gear so I’m ready to go.

In the morning I plan to go out to one of my favorite places, Laguna Mountain down in San Benito county. Since I’ve got a lot of new gear I want to have a familiar place to stay and test everything out before I head down south. I’m going to check out Anza Borrego, which is a huge park down close to the border, about an hour east of San Diego. I’ve long wanted to go exploring down there. After that I’ll probably head up to Joshua Tree and the Mojave National Preserve. After that, who knows? I’ll figure it out after I get down there. Anyways, really looking forward to getting off road and in the backcountry. It’s all I could think about when I was stuck up at the lodge. It’s going to be a great expedition, I can’t wait to be on the road!

Alaska, Fishing, lodge life

The Dogfish Meets a Ratfish

This past week, the strangest fish I’ve seen yet here was caught off the dock. Jon, my fellow dock-monkey, has been towing out a line with the skiff all summer to the middle of the bay trying to catch a big halibut. He’s been pretty persistent, it’s a shame he’s come up empty-handed thus far. A couple days ago, however, he caught this weird looking fish. It looked like something you’d find in the deep ocean. The glowing green eyes on the thing were pretty creepy. We were at a loss trying to figure out what it was. The body definitely had some shark-like characteristics, but the face and mouth didn’t resemble anything I was acquainted with.

It wasn’t until Captain Johnny showed up that we learned the identity of this strange beast. He said it was a ratfish, and that they were pretty common around here. I was a little bummed out that it didn’t turn out to be some creature from the abyss that took a wrong turn and wound up in the shallow waters of the bay. We took some photographs and Jon released it to get back to whatever ratfish do. I’ve seen some amazing fish come out of these waters big and small, but I’d have to say the ratfish wins the award for weirdness!

Things are beginning to wind down here at the lodge. We’ve got two weeks left and everyone is itching to finish off this season. Equipment is breaking down, and all of us are completely worn out. I have a nagging pain in my left hand that probably is a repetitive strain injury from doing the same tasks over and over. I was reaching for a boat to tie up to the dock about a month ago and something snapped in my palm, followed by intense pain. Since that incident it keeps on happening at random, and for a day or so I can’t make a fist or really flex my fingers without pain. It’s getting more and more frequent, I hope I haven’t done any permanent damage to it.

We’ve had one captain quit and another got fired in a dramatic fashion since last I wrote. The guy who got fired got drunk and cursed at a guest, then threated another captain who tried to intervene. I won’t go into detail as I don’t like to talk about lodge drama, but needless to say his behavior got him immediately fired. The number one rule here is to not piss off or insult the guests, and the second rule is to not get drunkenly out of control when spending time with the guests. Well, he broke both of those rules so he was sent packing.

The upshot of the captain getting fired is that I got to take his room! It is like staying at the Ritz-Carlton compared to my previous lodgings. Not only am I 50 feet away from the main hallway used by the crew (it’s much quieter), I have an 8 inch memory foam mattress and I actually get Wi-Fi in here! It’s the same crappy internet as everywhere else, but at least I can get on the Internet without having to be out in one of the public areas. The joy I feel at finally having a room to myself is immense. These last couple of months having a roommate was agony for me. My sleep was awful and the lack of privacy was driving me insane. Now I feel like I can finally relax and recharge from the rigors of my daily grind.

Anyways, we are down 2 captains at the most critical time in the whole season. Silvers are thick out in the Inside Passage and guests are limiting out every day. A couple of days ago we set a new record for catching around 1000 lbs of salmon in a single day. We processed 533 lbs of fillets from that haul. Having two less people is having a great impact on our processing capability. Also, the weather is just lousy every day. We’ve  had one sunny day in the past two weeks, it’s been non-stop rainy and cold.

We’ve also been having a lot of trouble getting guests in and out. A couple of groups have had to stay overnight in Ketchikan because the weather was too bad to fly in or take a boat out in. Along with the constant bad weather, the temps are starting to get down into the 40’s at night. It’s incredible how short the summers are here. It’s wild watching football on TV and seeing people still running around in shorts and T-shirts. I’ve been having to wear three layers of clothes down on the dock every day and I’m still chilled!

In fishing news, I have little to report. Two weeks ago on my day off I went back to the spot where I caught the silver. The water was thick with pinks, and I got a fish or a bite with almost every cast. I caught 13 at that spot, 3/4 of them foul hooked. I wasn’t even trying to snag them, but it was impossible to avoid hooking them. Most were miserable-looking specimens. It was fun for a while, but I got tired of catching them. They were having a rough enough time without me embedding treble hooks in them. The water was clear and the day was sunny, for the first time I got to witness the fish actually in the process of spawning. The male salmon do this little herky-jerk motion on the bottom of the stream when they fertilize the eggs. Until then I’ve only seen salmon do that in documentaries. The biologist in me really enjoyed seeing that part of their life-cycle up close and personal.

The past couple of days I have had off I’ve had the weather and the flow of water from the creek stymie my attempts at fishing. I’ve only got two more days off before I’m out of here so the pressure is on. I’ve got a fish box I want to fill and take back with me, so I hope to get on a boat this week or the next and get me a limit on some silvers. If I do, I’m going to try and smoke a good part of it. It’s so good, it’ll make you slap your pappy!

That’s all for this week. Sorry for the lack of output. I’ve been just consumed by work lately. It just drives the will to write out of me. I’ve been doing a lot of planning on my upcoming expedition in my down-time. I think ya’ll will all be entertained by what I get into in the coming month or two. I certainly am very excited about it! There’s nothing better than planning an expedition, especially one that will be as well funded as this one. It’ll be the perfect time of the year to hit the road also. I think the lifestyle of working hard for months and then being free for months suits me well. That’s how I’m going to proceed from this point forward. The next couple years will be critical, but once I pay my dues I’ll be set. “Live to fish, fish to live” will be my new creed!

Alaska, Fishing

The Creek Takes Revenge

The title I gave to the featured image this week is ‘Sad Dog’. The sad dog in question is Nico. This past Sunday, the boss and his wife went out fishing, taking Ty and Juneau with them. Nico was left behind, and he was not happy about it. He howled, cried and carried on in a rather pitiful manner all day. It was a headache for us all, particularly for me down on the dock where most of his anguish was broadcast to the world. He was inconsolable, and kept it up until his people came back in the afternoon. Nico is usually a very reserved dog, but I guess he’s capable of having his feelings hurt. Ty gets left behind all the time and you never hear him carrying on so!

This week was just a real downer in more ways than one. With news of the debacle in Afghanistan, COVID’s relentless march and horrible fires in California dominating the headlines, I was in low spirits. Also I have been completely run down and feeling like I was on the verge of getting sick most of the week. My sleep was even more ragged than it usually is. I just can’t sleep well with someone else in the room, no matter what sedatives, white noise or eye-masks I use. My roommate leaves in 3 weeks and I’m counting the days. He’s a good fellow but it will be amazing to have that small bit of privacy back. I’m just utterly burned out, more than I ever thought I could be about anything.

A bright spot has been that my departure date has been given to me. I leave on October 1st, the same day as about 2/3 of the crew. A few folks will remain another 4 days after that to get the lodge ready for winter. I’ve already made all my travel arrangements, I’ll be heading back to Anchorage to see Bethan for 3 days before I head back to the madhouse of the lower 48. Hopefully the weather and plague co-operates with my travel plans, I got insurance on my flight out of Ketchikan in case anything should go awry. I want to get a jump on getting The Beast road-ready, as a few of us here are planning a meetup at Zion National Park in Utah sometime in October. I’ve got a lot of gear to get and preparations to make before I head out that way.

In reference to the title of this post, the creek had its vengeance on me this week in another example of “Alaska Giveth, Alaska Taketh Away.” For my day off this week, I decided to go fish the spot called ‘S-Turn’. You’ll recall that’s the spot I fished the first time I went up the creek. Earlier in the day Gabe (our chef) and myself fished at the mouth of the creek by the lodge where it empties into the bay. Sockeye salmon have started to be caught there and we wanted to try for those. Also, Captain Jimmy was planning to go out fishing for salmon sharks the next day and had put in a request for pink salmon to use for chum & shark bait. We wanted to help out with that if we could.

I didn’t catch anything while fishing the mouth, and lost a couple lures. Gabe caught a pink, but sliced up his hand pretty good on some low-tide barnacles in subduing the fish. I couldn’t help but feel that this set a bit of a bad-luck precedent for the rest of the day. Nevertheless, after lunch I headed up to the S-turn to try my luck.

Last week, Gabe had been fishing at the S-Turn and had a big black bear come close. While less of a concern than a brown bear, I decided to take some bear spray with me as a precaution. I’d have preferred to take a firearm but there’s no way the boss would allow me to borrow one of his. Knowing him, if I asked, he’d probably call me a pussy and laugh! Bear mace is better than nothing, I suppose. Anyways, I headed up there wary of bears but saw no trace of any. The weather was partly cloudy and no rain was falling, which was nice. Also, the bugs were few and the river was down. As I set up my rod I was startled by a bald eagle swooping in close. He hangs out there, from what I hear. It never gets old seeing them, especially at such close range.

I began to cast and started getting snagged almost immediately. It’s a tricky spot to fish. You have to use a heavy 1 oz spoon to get it down to depth quickly as the current flows pretty rapidly there. The stream goes from a depth of two feet down into a 15 foot hole. First, you have to cast upstream where it’s shallow, then keep your rod tip up to keep from snagging until it gets over the hole. Then you dip your lure down, drift it through the hole and out the other side. If you do it correctly, you’re bound to hook one of the big salmon down there in the trench.

I lost a couple lures until I hooked up with a fierce fish! It ran up and down the creek, my drag screaming all the while. It was a great fight, it made some good jumps and I could see that it was a big male pink. Actually, after I successfully landed it, I realized that it was probably the biggest one I’d ever caught. It was going to make good shark bait! I tossed it up into a depression higher up on the bank and continued fishing. Not long after, I caught another small pink for the chum bucket. I continued on fishing, losing lure after lure. Occasionally I’d catch pinks but returned the rest to the creek. Two is all I was willing to have to carry back to the lodge.

I caught 5 fish and lost 6 lures at this spot. The last snagged lure is what led to disaster. So my rod has 4 sections as I’ve stated before. It has been a good rod so far, except for one critical flaw. After 10-15 casts, the last section of the rod has a tendency to detach from the rest of the rod. Usually I get a head’s up before the last section detaches, as the rod guides will suddenly rotate out of alignment before it completely comes off. I’ll just mash it back down firmly and continue fishing. A lot of times I’ll preemptively press it together to keep it from happening at all.

Now, so I get this snag and without warning the last rod section flies off and slides down the line into the water. I knew I was screwed at this point unless I cleared the snag without losing the lure. I did have a swivel connecting a leader of mono to my braided mainline, but I was pretty sure it was too small to catch in the rod tip at the end of the section. Basically, if I had to pop the line it would detach and there would be nothing to catch the end section. My rod would be then be rendered useless. For the next half hour I did everything in my power to free the snag, walking up and down the bank yanking on the line to no avail. It wouldn’t budge for anything! Finally, I gave in and popped the line at the lack of any other option. As I predicted, the line came back sans rod section.

I cursed and hollered, the damned creek had claimed another rod! There went 80 bucks down the drain. Unlike last time, this damage was not repairable. My rod was junked as if I’d snapped it. I had only got to use it 3 times! Worse, I realized after the fact that I could have swam across the creek and probably freed the snag by pulling it in the other direction. The current was pretty strong, and the water pretty deep, but I probably could have made it across without issue. It just didn’t occur to me as an option at the time. I felt like an idiot for not thinking of doing that.

Defeated, I gathered up my gear and went to pick up my fish. To my surprise, the big fish was there but the smaller fish was gone! There was no place it could have gone off to, it was as if something had came and grabbed it. The creek had really came after me this day with all the lost lures, rod section, and now my fish had vanished! What rotten luck! I bagged up my one fish and headed back to the lodge. At least I had something to show for my efforts.

When I got back to the lodge and told people my story, I got a lot of sympathy. There’s been a lot of loss and destruction of my co-worker’s fishing gear on the creek & trail. As to theories of what grabbed my missing fish, people suggested mink, bears or Sasquatch as some possible culprits. I only had my back turned to the spot where my fish were at briefly when I went up and down the bank trying to free the snag. My theory is that the resident bald eagle swooped down and snatched it. I would have thought I’d have seen something so large come down and grab it, but I wouldn’t have put it past him to do so! I’m sure he had his eye on me the whole time I was there, just waiting for his opportunity. They are smart like that.

I filed a claim for a replacement rod with Shakespeare. I don’t see any reason that they wouldn’t replace my rod. I just got it last month and it’s still under warranty. It was a defect in the rod that caused it to fail and not anything I did wrong. Nevertheless, I don’t know how long it’ll take to get a replacement sent out to me. It took almost two weeks to get it in the first place and the peak of the run is happening now! I’m only here five more weeks anyway. It’s just another frustration to add to my ever-growing list. Oh well, it’s not the first time my fishing efforts have been thwarted. It certainly won’t be the last, that’s for sure. Things always go wrong when you’re in the pursuit of fish!

In the meantime, Captain Packrat has offered to sell me one of his extra 6 foot rods for 20 bucks. I’ll have something to take up the trail until I get a replacement for my rod at least. I don’t want to risk taking my Shimano rod up there again and wrecking it further. I liked having my pack rod as it freed up my hands to keep my balance while walking the trail, since it broke down into 18 inch sections that were easy to fit in my backpack. Having to maneuver while only having one hand free is definitely a handicap, plus the rod will catch on brush and whatnot. Oh well, it is what it is. There’s always hardships to overcome when fishing in Alaska, this place is hell on gear! Hopefully my luck will be better the next time I go fishing up the creek. I’m staying away from the S-Turn from now on, that place is cursed for me!